Walking Tour Central Park – 1
Welcome to your Central Park walking tour.
Welcome to your Central Park walking tour. This journey is brought to you by The Humane Space. We encourage curiosity and introspection as part of a lifelong journey to knowledge.
Throughout this tour, we offer thought prompts to activate your senses and deepen the experience of being in these unique places.
Begin by selecting a location.
William Shakespeare Statue
65th Street and Center Drive
Welcome to your Midtown Manhattan walking tour. This journey is brought to you by The Lotte New York Palace and The Humane Space, an app that prompts curiosity and wonder within.
Throughout this tour, we’ll provide contemplation prompts, which will activate your senses and deepen the experience of being in these unique places. If you need to, please refer to the tour map above at any time. When you arrive at each new destination, use the pull-down menu on your tour screen to access the tour information for each location.
As always, be aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re looking up at the beautiful trees and natural environment we’re about to show you. Now, let’s begin our tour…
We begin our tour at the William Shakespeare statue at 65th Street and Center Drive.
If someone says “The Park” in New York, chances are very good that they are referring to Central Park. Spanning 843 acres—from 59th Street to 110th Street (south to north), and Fifth Avenue to 8th Avenue (east to west)—Central Park is the most filmed location in the world and the most visited urban park in the United States, boasting more than 40 million visitors annually.
Conceived by acclaimed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (pronounced vox), the winning design of Central Park was selected through a competition held in 1858. Construction proved challenging due to the rocky, swampy terrain and the timing of the American Civil War. Interestingly, more gunpowder was used to clear the area now occupied by Central Park than was blasted at the Battle of Gettysburg. In total, around five million cubic feet of soil and rock were displaced and transported away to make room for the vast park as we know it today.
Dedicated in 1872, this bronze sculpture by one of the most prominent American sculptors of the late 19th century, John Quincy Adams Ward, commemorates the well-known poet, playwright, and actor born in 1564. A group of prominent New Yorkers had read about Shakespeare memorials being erected in England and Germany, and so they formed a committee to bring one to Central Park. An 1864 performance of Julias Caesar in the Winter Garden Theater raised $4,000 toward the funding of the statue. One of the actors was none other than John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln the following year. The monument’s cornerstone was placed in 1864 on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, but the Civil War delayed its completion for several years. John Quincy Adams Ward would become known as the “Dean of American Sculptors,” creating a total of nine sculptures for New York City’s parks, including Indian Hunter, The Pilgrim, and the Seventh Regiment Memorial, which all reside in Central Park.
This sculpture of Shakespeare was cast in Philadelphia in 1870 at the Robert Wood & Company foundry, which was also responsible for statues of other historical figures, including former Secretary of State Henry Clay, Dr. John Witherspoon (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and President Abraham Lincoln. The popularity of Victorian-style fences led to the foundry opening an outpost in New Orleans, which was responsible for much of the ornamental cast iron work there.
Next, let’s head to the northeast and travel the long straight path that is the Mall and Literary Walk path. We’ll travel this path all the way to our third destination, Bethesda Terrace, but in the meantime, let’s talk about Literary Walk.
On your tour screen, select Central Park Mall from the pull-down menu to read about this location.
Central Park Mall / Literary Walk
The southern portion of The Mall, which you are walking along now, is known as the Literary Walk as it is lined with statues of writers. These include Fitz-Green Halleck, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott, as well as Christopher Columbus. Halleck, born in 1790, was famous for his social commentaries, and the statue was unveiled on the year of his death to President Rutherford B. Hayes and a crowd of 10,000 fans. Scottish writers Scott, born in 1771, and Robert Burns, born in 1759, wrote novels and poems, respectively. The newest monument on the Literary Walk—the first added to the Park in more than 50 years—is the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, placed in 2020.
One of the Park’s most striking features, the Mall, is a formal promenade lined with two rows of American elms, North America’s largest remaining stand of these majestic trees. It cuts a formal, straight path up through Central Park, an anomaly among the park’s predominantly meandering paths. The Mall provides the perfect setting for strolling and people-watching, just as it was intended by Olmsted and Vaux in the 19th century.
Let’s continue down the Mall toward Bethesda Terrace.
The design duo referred to The Mall as “an open-air hall of reception,” and it remains to this day a place for New Yorkers and visitors to come together and be social and enjoy nature and art. Olmsted and Vaux’s vision of landscape as implied architecture is still clear: The elm trees’ curved branches seemingly vault above the path to create a cathedral-like space.
The American elm, sometimes called white elm, is known for its large, stately form. As such, it was chosen by Native Americans as “council trees,” or a signpost for significant tribal gatherings. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry David Thoreau are among those who have extolled the American elm’s beauty in their works. For Thoreau, elm trees were almost anthropomorphic, showing a range of human characteristics. He saw elm trees as exhibiting stoic perseverance in the face of adversity. Of elms, he said, they “adjourn not night nor day, they stand for magnificence; they take the brunt of the tempest; they attract the lightning that would smite our roofs, leaving only a few rotten members scattered over the highway.”
Sadly, mature elms like those lining the Mall are scarce in the United States, and particularly in the Northeast, due to infestations by fungi and elm park beetles that ravaged them in the early 20th century. Take a moment to appreciate their rare beauty and graceful forms.
Let’s keep walking down The Mall toward Bethesda Terrace.
The Mall’s northern section was intended as an area to enjoy music in the 19th century. Architect Jacob Wrey Mould designed a cast-iron bandstand, later replaced by the Naumberg Bandshell in 1923, an iconic element of the Park which still hosts performances today and was the site of a speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. and a eulogy read for John Lennon.
Keep heading down The Mall toward Bethesda Terrace.
Literary Walk is a perfect place to people-watch and think. Pause for a moment as you read the poem, Sanctuary, by the 24th U.S. poet laureate, Ada Limón, from her book, The Hurting Kind, published by Milkweed Editions:
Suppose it’s easy to slip
into another’s green skin,
bury yourself in leaves
and wait for a breaking,
a breaking open, a breaking
out. I have, before, been
tricked into believing
I could be both an I
and the world. The great eye
of the world is both gaze
and gloss. To be swallowed
by being seen. A dream.
To be made whole
by being not a witness,
Consider the last lines,‘To be made whole by being not a witness, but witnessed.” This is a good time to slow down for just a moment and take the time to acknowledge another person. Recent research has shown that tiny gestures can help people feel more connected. Give a nod, hello, or brief smile to someone near you, and share a moment of connectedness.
Spend as much time people-watching or enjoying Literary Walk and then continue toward the end of The Mall, which leads us to our next destination, Bethesda Terrace.
When you have reached the end of The Mall, select Bethesda Terrace / Fountain from the pull-down menu on your tour screen.
Bethesda Terrace / Fountain
You should now be standing at Bethesda Terrace, overlooking Bethesda Fountain.
Bethesda Terrace is a notable icon of Central Park and features a large two-level plaza with an arcade. As one of the few formal landscapes in the Park, the Terrace offers a gathering space that features Bethesda Fountain. Bethesda Terrace was designed by Central Park co-designer Calvert Vaux with his assistant, Wrey Mould.
Vaux always maintained that nature was the focus of the design of Central Park. He once said, “Nature first, second, and third—architecture after a while.” The Terrace is a notable exception, but the details of the Terrace still pay homage to nature.
Take a minute to explore the intricate carvings on the ramps, balustrades, and piers of the Terrace, which Wrey Mould was responsible for. On the upper level of the terrace, piers feature scenes representing night and day. Grand staircases that lead to the lower level along with other piers feature carvings that depict the four seasons as represented through fruits, flowers, plants, and birds.
The lower level of Bethesda Terrace features 16,000 encaustic or inlaid tiles manufactured by the Mintol tile company in Stoke-on-Trent, England. It is the only ceiling in the world featuring these types of tiles, which are typically used as flooring.
And at the center of the Terrace is Bethesda Fountain, which Vaux called “the centre of the centre.” Measuring 26 feet high and 96 feet wide, it is one of the largest fountains in New York. It features a bronze Neoclassical statue known as the Angel of the Waters. The only sculpture to have been commissioned as part of the original design of Central Park, the 8-foot bronze angel stands above four cherubim which represent health, purity, temperance, and peace, all set within a two-tiered basin that is filled with aquatic plants in the summer. The angel carries a lily in one hand while the other is outstretched to bless the water pouring around her feet, which commemorates the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 to supply the city with fresh water.
The designer of the sculpture was Emma Stebbins, who became the first woman to receive a commission for a major sculpture in the city of New York. Initial reviews of the sculpture were mixed. When the sculpture was unveiled on June 1, 1873, The New York Times wrote, “All had expected something great, something of angelic power and beauty, and when a feebly-pretty idealess thing of bronze was revealed the revulsion of feeling was painful.” Today however, The Times describes the sculpture as, “all but synonymous with the city.”
Bethesda Fountain has also been a celebrated filming location for television and film, including Annie Hall, Angels in America, One Fine Day, Home Alone 2, and Law & Order.
Tony Kushner, the award-winning American playwright who wrote Angels in America, said of the Bethesda Fountain, “The plaza, the setting and the angel herself — it feels like the center of New York City, and the center of the universe, in a way.”
Take a minute to sit and enjoy the beautiful fountain. Look around again at your fellow visitors. Choose someone and make up a story about who they are and why they are there. Imagine their life goals, their triumphs, and challenges. Take a break from your reality to create someone else’s. Have fun with it! If you are with someone else, jointly create the story.
Next, if The Mall is behind you and you’re facing the front of Stebbins’ bronze sculpture, follow the path to the left around Bethesda Fountain and exit the circle to the left, walking along the shore of the lake toward Bow Bridge.
When you reach the beginning of the bridge, select Bow Bridge from the pull-down menu on your tour screen.
Welcome to Bow Bridge, one of the most photographed sites in Central Park. Spanning 60 feet, the bridge connects Cherry Hill—an ideal place for picnicking along the water, especially when its Yoshino cherry trees are in bloom—and the wild and lovely area of Central Park known as the Ramble. Also designed by Vaux and Wrey Mould, Bow Bridge features elements of Neo-Classical, Gothic, and Renaissance design. It is the oldest cast-iron bridge in the Park and the second-oldest of its kind in the United States. The graceful arc of the bridge calls to mind an archer’s bow. The wood walkway is made from ipe, or Brazilian walnut, a wood typically found in South America and some parts of Central America. Ipe is one of the densest hardwoods available, three times harder than cedar. The bridge also features eight 3 1/2-foot-tall cast-iron urns displayed along the edges of the bridge, which are replicas of the original planting urns that adorned the bridge.
The design is simple, but the acoustics are sophisticated. The fact that the park is slightly elevated above the street, combined with the sound-barrier qualities of the ivy and tree canopy and the gray noise produced by the water fountain, results in drowning out most city sounds. You might forget, if only for a minute, that you are in the middle of Midtown Manhattan.
Stop for a moment on the bridge to take in views of the lake. Closely scan the whole scene, logging details so you can pull up a clear memory later. Touch, one of the first sensory systems to evolve, can help with stronger, richer memories. Find a comfortable place to stand. Close your eyes for just a moment and run your hands along the bridge, noting the texture, temperature, and graceful lines of the bridge’s design. Feel free to hit pause and enjoy the bridge for as long as you like. Resume the audio when you’re ready to continue to our next destination.
The Bow Bridge is one of the primary entrances to the area of Central Park known as “The Ramble,” which we’ll explore shortly. Now, let’s cross Bow Bridge and stay to the left, walking along the Lake. We’ll walk along the lake for a bit, eventually turning right, and into The Ramble.
When you turn slightly right at the fork, select The Ramble from the pull-down menu on your tour screen to continue the tour.
Designed to resemble the lush forests of upstate New York, the Ramble offers 36 acres of winding paths, rocky outcroppings, and dense foliage. It’s very easy to forget you are still in the middle of bustling Manhattan, with the sounds of birds chirping all around you and the dense foliage blocking the views of skyscrapers that are so present in the southern part of the park.
As you turn slightly right from the lake, you’ll begin to enter The Ramble. Use your tour map to navigate to Azalea Pond, our next stop. The pond is fed by a meandering stream known as The Gill, and it is named for the azaleas and rhododendrons planted along its shores.
Central Park is an important stop along the Atlantic Flyway, a migratory path for birds during the spring and fall. The park welcomes hundreds of bird species each year. The Ramble is the center of birding activity within Central Park, and a spot just east of Azalea Pond features several bird feeders and is a great place for birdwatchers to gather.
In the spring, the Ramble is populated with migrating warblers, and in the fall, it’s a hotspot for Northern Flickers, Cedar Waxwings, and other striking birds. 192 bird species are regular visitors to Central Park, and another 88 species are infrequent visitors. While it may be rare to see them, as many as six species of owl winter in the park. With its diverse native plantings, woodlands, and freshwater stream, the Ramble can provide an incredible birding experience, especially for viewing songbirds, often visible at close range.
As William Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.” We encourage you to ramble through the Ramble and listen to the music of the earth.
From here, free-walk around the Ramble and make your way to our final destination, the Loeb Boathouse, using your tour map as a loose guide. The twisting paths were intentionally designed to create a sense of mystery and wonder. As you meander, make your way to the Loeb Boathouse.
When you reach the Loeb Boathouse, our final destination, select it from the pull-down menu on your tour screen.
Welcome to the Loeb Boathouse. If you saw any rowboats earlier from the Bow Bridge, they were launched from Loeb Boathouse. Boating has long been a tradition within Central Park—beginning in the 1860s, boats made a circuit of the Lake and stopped at various landings—gondolas were also available for private tours. The original 1870s boathouse was an ornate wood structure designed by Vaux, but eventually, it fell into disrepair and has been replaced by the modern facility you see here today.
Originally, boats were moored at six landings in 1865. The boats were stored just west of Bethesda Terrace, but in 1870, the idea to construct a boat house was put forth to ease increased demand. Opening in 1873, Vaux embarked on the project himself, creating a boat house with Gothic-detailed timber. The building was in service for over 80 years until the early 1950s, when a new building was constructed with a donation by Carl Loeb. Vaux’s original building was demolished, and this new one was designed by Chief Park Designer Stuart Constable.
This concludes our Central Park walk. From here, you can enjoy exploring Manhattan’s most impressive park at your own pace!
This tour is brought to you by The Humane Space. For more curiosity-building experiences, visit us at www.thehumane.space.
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